One year ago this week, I published ‘The Homecoming Quadrilogy,‘ a 4-part essay documenting my Homecoming dance as a High School Junior in 1998. Since then, the essay has been the source of numerous e-mails and links from blogs all over the nation. In fact, the Quadrilogy in question earned itself the #6 spot in the CDP Top 30 Posts Of All Time. Not too shabby, considering that Post #600 is right around the corner.
Because it’s been exactly a year since the debut of this essay, along with the fact that Homecoming is taking place in High Schools all over the country, I wanted to once again share it with new and old CDP readers alike. So sit back, relax and breathe in one of the most bizarrely memorable nights of my entire life, published in its complete, 4-part entirety (along with the old CDP logo!). You’ll thank me later.
I walked into the Spring Homecoming dance alone, but I was planning on leaving a man.
True, I had no date and arrived with a bunch of better-looking people who did, but that was all sure to change, because tonight was the night! This was the night that I shed my inhibitions and stopped listening to common sense and reason.
No longer would I be the nice guy, the PG-rated guy. The guy that the ladies would talk to when their boyfriends were being selfish and unfaithful, only to leave me for their arms when I quelled their salty tears. No way. From now on, I would be the guy who did the dishing out and taking, and women would line up in front of me, begging to be stepped on and hurt again. My high school legacy had just begun, and I knew I had an opportunity to write it as I pleased.
The night belonged to me!
I was mentally and physically prepared to rule that night. My super-tight, tapered slacks subtly led your eyes up to my oversized beige blazer, sporting shoulder pads large enough to be endorsed by the Miami Dolphins very own Larry Csonka (Super Bowl VIII MVP; ‘you’ve been czonked!’). A simple black t-shirt underneath said, ‘I’m trying, but not hard enough to look sad and desperate.’
Topping off the ensemble was my not-so-secret weapon, six tablespoons of Old Spice, strategically dallopped and slathered in various locations on my body.
I reeked. I also looked sad and desperate.
This night also predated my 5-year stint with braces, mind you, so my teeth looked as if they were retreating from the front of my mouth, turning inward and making a beeline for my uvula. I was drenched in flop sweat before I even walked into the dimly-lit gymnasium, and it was 40 degrees out. My finely-groomed group started to congregate and form a semi-circle near some bleachers, while I began the hunt for the woman that would change my life.
The night was no less than 10 minutes old, and I was about to get the crap beaten out of me.
I ran into a female friend whom I shared a spot with on the school bus. Living in a small town 30 minutes from school, you had no choice but to ride the bus until you got your driver’s license. This girl, who we’ll call ‘Sadie,’ had brought along a friend from another school; we’ll call her ‘Marie.’ Sadie introduced me to Marie and the three of us started talking. Sadie was nice like that; always looking for someone to set me up with, and Marie was right in my wheelhouse. Why me and Sadie never hooked up was pretty obvious, considering that she smoked more weed than Woody Harrelson at Burning Man. No, thank you.
Knowing that Marie had absolutely no idea who I was, I used this time to try out my newfound attitude towards the art of seduction. I told her I played guitar and was an accomplished songwriter; perhaps I’d write something for her someday. She giggled and brushed against my blazer, her eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree as I continued to lie through my crooked teeth. I was definitely on to something. I could see a very short, awkward and dishonest future with her, and I was okay with that.
After chatting for a few minutes, someone else needed my attention for a bit, so I excused myself from Sadie and Marie, making sure to let Marie know how much of a pleasure it was to meet her. I turned to step away when Marie grabbed me by the arm and spun me back around. ‘Where’s my hug?’ she asked, eyes glistening. Amazed at how quickly this new method was working, I gave Marie a most tender hug and swaggered away, confident there was nothing that would keep me from the prospect of more hugs in the future.
It felt good.
I went over to talk to the person who requested my attention; a girl we’ll call ‘Becky.’ Becky had lost one of her high-heels, as one of my friends thought it would be a witty jest to hide it on her. She wanted to know if I had seen it, and I told her I would look around. I walked around the perimeter of the gym, pushing around chairs and bending under tables. Eventually, I found her lonely shoe under the chair of a huge man I had never seen before. My school was rather small; we all knew everyone, and this guy certainly wasn’t from around here. He looked like Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, and was very mad for some reason.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘Can I grab that shoe from under your chair?’
Just then, I realized why this guy looked so big. It was because he was sitting on some guy’s lap. Someone even larger than him; and he was being restrained. Poorly.
‘You’re f***ing dead! DEAD!’ He screamed, as the man under him kept a tight bear hug on his frame. The angry guy squirmed and swung for a few seconds before the guy restraining him said to me, ‘Go dude, just go!’
For a few seconds, I didn’t even realize that the guy was yelling at me; it just didn’t make any sense for some reason. I quickly kicked the shoe out from under the chair and got the hell out of there. I got about five steps away when I heard more commotion. It was the big guy dragging the angry guy out of the gym, still furious and more than ready to crack me like an egg.
That’s when it all hit me like a high-heel to the face. I had been played like a fiddle.
You see, that was Marie’s boyfriend. Knowing full well that he was watching her from afar after a fight they had, she used me to get back at him; flirting and hugging me solely to piss him off and send him into a textbook rage. Her and Sadie had set the whole thing up; laughing at my stupid jokes, nodding at each well-placed lie. I knew it was too good to be true, but I didn’t listen to my gut and I almost got killed because of it.
Look no further for proof that women are messed right the hell up. Instead of just telling him that she was mad and running the risk of ruining the night for herself, she ruined the night for two guys instead, one of them a completely innocent bystander. That’s not even close to cool, and I would never do that to anyone.
Then again, was I really all that innocent? After all, I did lie to her about almost everything. While trying to remain in charge of a courtship through dishonesty and hormone-driven motives, I got strung along and hung out to dry like millions of other losers just like me. I deserved it; it scared me straight. If women are messed up, it’s because men lead them to it.
I was shaking in fear for the next 15 minutes, looking over my shoulder and asking anyone who would listen to check and see if the guy had left. To be entirely honest, my night of manly retribution and female attraction wasn’t going as well as I hoped, but the night was just getting started.
At least I got Becky’s shoe back.
Still reeling from getting wretchedly betrayed (and almost killed) earlier on in the night, I kept a low profile for about an hour, chatting with close friends and wiping tears away with my oversized blazer. I didn’t dance too much, for fear prospective dates would notice the huge pee stain that had been forming since that big guy yelled at me. I refused to stand in any open spaces or under any lights, certain in my neurosis that Nutass Boyfriend Rage-aholic would lunge from the shadows, John Rambo-style, slitting my throat with ninja-like precision and malice.
This was simply no way to live.
After all, this was supposed to be my night! I was supposed to arrive and emerge as a contender from a sea of pretenders, making a stand and acting like the straight guys do in John Hughes’ movies. If there’s one thing that 80’s teen films have taught us, it’s that what happens at a High School dance will have a direct emotional effect on the rest of your waking life; perhaps even beyond the grave. I needed to make sure my chance counted.
My only chance at succeeding tonight would have to be at the innocent mercy of a woman who was fortunate enough to not already know who I was. Most of the women at my school already crossed me off the big list of prospective mates in their mind many, many years ago. In the fifth grade, I accidentally wore my mom’s blouse to school in what would be remembered as a tragic laundry mix-up of epic proportions. Since then, most people, teachers especially, looked at me a little cockeyed. In addition to that, my best friend all through middle school was a bona fide homosexual, so the deck has always been stacked against me when it came to being taken seriously as a man.
Across the dark gym, on the other side of the dance floor, my mystery girl sat by herself. I had been watching her for most of the night, and she looked absolutely beautiful. I had seen her once or twice during school, but never enough to form a solid opinion of her. She normally wore hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans; tonight she was simply radiant.
As if her dress wasn’t perfect enough, she was proudly sporting a cast on her broken arm, which she had meticulously decorated in a sparkly magenta. The 30 feet between us might as well have been a black hole full of pudding and sharks; there was no way I could muster the balls to approach someone like her for no good reason.
‘Why don’t you ask her to dance?’ said ‘Vinny,’ a male friend of mine, as I stared off into space; thumping bass and strobe lights pounding in my head.
‘Why don’t you?’ was all I could muster. To this day, I still can’t think of a better comeback. Although, ‘Why don’t you go to hell?’ comes pretty close. I was a little touchy at that point in my life.
I wasn’t one of those guys. I wasn’t a guy that thought so highly of himself to ask a stranger to dance and get away with it. I thought it was rude and arrogant, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
‘Fine, I’ll ask her myself,’ Vinny responded, who was certainly one of those guys. It always worked for him, too, which bothered the living hell out of me. I grabbed him by the shirt half a step later.
‘You can’t ask her to dance,’ I said. ‘She’s mine.’
Vinny put his hands on my shoulders and looked me square in the eye. He only did that to me when he had something very important to say, or when he was about to knee me in the testicles. I got into the habit of bracing for impact no matter what.
‘Listen dude, you’re probably not going to get a chance like this again. She’s sitting over there all by her damn self; just ask her if she wants to dance. Look, if it’ll make you feel better, there’s a girl I’ve been meaning to ask, too. If you promise to go over and ask her, I’ll do the same thing. On the next slow song, we swarm like locusts. Deal?’
Such men we were, daring each other to ask women to dance. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t already been scooped up by some bikini sorority cult.
After a couple numbers, a slow song started to waft through the speakers and into the gym, as Vinny and I looked at each other with wide, non-gay eyes. This was it. We nodded without words and went our separate ways, as couples started to meld together like cells in a Petri dish.
She was still sitting where she had been for the whole night, looking rather bored and despondent. Her hair was curled yet silky; reflecting off of the lights like something straight out of a putrid shampoo commercial. Her sparkly cast bounced light around like a disco ball. I swallowed hard, shook my head in disbelief, and started walking through the crowd to get to her.
The dancefloor was packed with swaying people who already had dates, already were happy. ‘Jerks,’ I thought to myself, ‘every last one of ’em,’ even as I was moving heaven and earth to join the ranks of the taken. I pushed, shoved and said ‘excuse me’ about a dozen times before I made it to the other side of the gym, losing sight of her and doubting my every step. I looked left and right, trying to remember where she was sitting.
She was gone, for the moment. The song was half-over at this point.
My friend was right; I stalled and lost my chance. That was my one big moment to meet her, and it was over. My big night of becoming the jerk I always hoped I’d be was going over about as well as a concrete balloon.
Truth is, it wasn’t over; it was about to get much worse.
No more than 5 feet away, I saw her sitting at another table, but not on a chair. She was sitting in the lap of a guy I’d never seen before.
As my crooked smile faded, I saw her smile growing. They were laughing, having a good time. There wasn’t room on that chair for a third person, even if I was only 100 pounds at the time. Up close and under the lights, she was even more beautiful than I imagined. Her boyfriend looked fresh from the pages of a J. Crew catalog, and I secretly wondered how I could find his address so I could mail him half of a cat. Half of his cat. I bet he smelled like Polo and had a closet full of rugby shirts with popped collars, each one sexier than the last.
What an asshole. I didn’t know the first thing about either one of them, but I knew he didn’t deserve her. Neither did I, really, but at least I knew who Larry Csonka was (see part 1). I stood there alone, watching the two of them like a car accident until the song mercifully ended.
Dejected and heartbroken for the second time tonight, I waded through the crowd of happy people, back to where I was talking with Vinny earlier. He was waiting for me, and he was also by himself. That made me feel a little better.
‘How’d it go?’ he asked me.
‘Um…couldn’t find her.’ I fired back, lying for about the tenth time that night. ‘How about you?’
‘She didn’t want to dance. What a bunch of crap.’
‘I hear you, dude. Oh well, still plenty of time tonight, right?’
‘You got it.’
We stood there, trying our damnest to save face after such a wicked turn of events. He eventually disappeared into the darkness of the dance floor, and I tried to get the image out of my head of J. Crew with my mystery girl on his lap.
I didn’t see her again that night, mainly because I didn’t want to. There were plenty of other ways I could torture myself if need be. Besides, the night was barely half-over. There was so much more left to do; so many people left to reject me.
What started out as a night of new beginnings and retribution was turning into another textbook punch in the ear for yours truly. The night was half over and I was still alone; mouth reeking with the familiar, sour taste of rejection and failure. It tastes sort of like an old penny, or a 9-volt battery doused in mustard and poop.
I was all set to call it a night. Cut my losses and try again next year. Preferably in a different school, in a different state or continent altogether, where people communicated in beeps and clicks. Take off this horrid blazer, go home, make myself some toast and sleep until 2pm. Damn.
Every time a camera snapped near me, it was like someone was visually documenting the most pathetic and forgettable four hours of my life. Friendly faces became twisted and gnarled caricatures under the lights, cementing the feeling of loneliness that can only be felt by a wiener teenager smack-dab in the center of a puberty-soaked angst session. The me that I am now hates the me that I used to be, but the old me had no choice but to continue being me until I became the me you know now.
Excuse me, that last line gave me a bit of a nosebleed. Give me a second.
Just when I was ready to leave, Gail walked in and I got my swagger back.
‘Gail’ was a female friend of mine, like Sadie, that I knew mainly from the bus we rode together. We had partnered up for a few projects in Spanish class, in particular, making a paper mache’ pinata. We got to know each other a little more after spending a few long nights together in her bedroom, meticulously dipping newspaper in slop and constructing what could be considered the most terrifying clown pinata ever viewed. Candy or not, this thing was going to scare the hell out of some Mexican children.
She had told me she was bringing some people to the dance and wanted to introduce them to me and my friends. She strolled in with two ladies who were looking for company, or at least that’s what she was telling me at the time. We’ll call them ‘Kim’ and ‘Charlotte.’
You can’t blame me for being hesitant; even a bit scared. So far tonight, my record with mysterious women was 0-2, and I really saw no reason to go for the hat trick of rejection. I needed some insurance as to not go into this alone, so I went and grabbed ‘Vinny,’ who you remember from the prior ‘J. Crew’ incident. If something bad was going to happen to me, it was going to happen to him, too. Truth be told, nothing bad ever happened to Vinny, so I was using him as kind of a crude karma shield; a St. Christopher’s medal that smelled like french fries and Brute.
Kim was exactly what you want to receive out of a first impression. She was charming and alive, sporting bright-yet-cavernous eyes and high cheekbones. She talked almost exclusively with her hands, and wasn’t the least bit superficial. She seemed like a genuinely nice person, wearing a simple black dress with matching simple makeup. Within seconds of meeting her, I could tell that she was going to turn my night around. Heck, I might even make a new friend out of the deal.
Of course, Vinny was thinking the exact same thing for himself. Before I could even squeeze the word ‘Howdy!’ from my windpipe, Vinny had swept an arm around Kim and led her as far away from me as he possibly could. They were a blip on the radar within seconds.
For the countless time this evening, I stood alone with my jaw to the floor. It was at this point that Gail introduced me to Charlotte, and I got a first impression I will truly never forget.
The first thing that I noticed about Charlotte- or the first thing that anyone with eyes noticed about her that night- was the fact that she was wearing a massive, white neck brace. Her beautiful blue dress sparkled at every angle, her hair was expertly tossed and curled, her makeup was applied with wild teenage precision, and it was all overshadowed by the foam device wrapped tightly around her neck like a medically prescribed scarf.
She was also crying. Hard.
I looked to Gail, an obvious rictus of complete confusion on my face, then looked back to Charlotte and cocked my head to the side. ‘Charlotte, this is Ramone,’ Gail said, which was my Spanish class moniker at the time. She held out her hand and attempted to say ‘Hello, Ramone,’ but got choked up somewhere near the second syllable and buried her face into a soaked and tattered piece of Kleenex. I slowly brought my arm back to my side, fairly certain a handshake wasn’t in order.
You see, Charlotte had been having a bad week. She was injured in a car accident just days prior, which led to not only the neck brace, but a totaled vehicle. If that wasn’t awful enough, the day before the dance, she was savagely dumped by her boyfriend right after buying the very Homecoming dress she was wearing as she stood before me, sobbing and red-nosed. In reality, she was having a far worse night than me, which I thought was impossible up to this point.
I did the only thing I could do. I fled the scene. I had problems of my own; I didn’t need to get bogged down with hers. That’s what the old me would have done; piss his entire night away talking to someone about some jerk she’s just dying to get back together with. I had a lifetime of experience dealing with people in this situation, and I knew that Charlotte was on a rebound so fresh that it was still flopping around on the plate. Not now. Not tonight. I left her and Gail to fend for themselves.
In the meantime, I talked with friends, told a few jokes and settled into a quiet routine. Every few minutes, though, I’d check to see how Charlotte was doing. I wouldn’t let her know I was keeping an eye on her, I just wanted to see if she was having a good time. She, of course, was not. Having now been abandoned by both Kim and Gail, I found her sitting alone, on a chair in the middle of the dancefloor, bawling hard and unable to turn her fractured head in any direction. Mascara was everywhere.
I tried to ignore her, I really did. However, every time I saw her, I knew exactly how she was feeling, and it weighed heavy on my conscience. My heart and body started to clash with each other, fighting about what sort of person I was destined to become. My body told me to stick with the plan and give up the soft guy I used to be. My heart was aching to make this girl feel better, even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea who she was and whether or not she was clinically insane. Lord knows I wasn’t the person to do it, but I knew that nobody else was going to.
Giving in to what I knew was right, I stepped up to the plate for a total stranger, perhaps as some divine retribution for all the crap I was being hit with that evening. I pulled a chair up to Charlotte- again, right in the center of the dancefloor- and we started to talk.
Well, sort of. She couldn’t turn her head, so she didn’t realize I was there for about 5 minutes. Thinking she wanted to be alone or ignored, I just sat next to her while she wiped her nose on her dress and sobbed. When she finally noticed me, then we started to talk.
Charlotte proceeded to vent and emote all over me. I had heard it all before; the boyfriend, the lack of attention, the secrets and whatnot. I did what I always did; I smiled, nodded and agreed. That was exactly what she needed, and after about 20 minutes of this, I coaxed out her first smile of the night.
In the distance, I caught Vinny and Kim dancing in the corner, laughing and swaying without a care. I secretly fantasized that he was being played like I had earlier in the evening, but to no avail. They couldn’t be any happier. That metallic taste started rising up in me again, as my night of becoming a new man was destroyed at the hands of the very person who wanted to change.
For the rest of the night, I stayed close to Charlotte. I got drinks, did anything to stop the crying and retrieved handfuls of Kleenex when I wasn’t successful. She continued to call me ‘Ramone’ right up until midnight, when it was time for everyone to go home. I led her back to where Kim and Gail (and Vinny) were congregated and hugged her goodbye, as she thanked me for being such a good listener.
It was the meanest thing anyone had said to me the entire night.
On the way home, I thought about what I expected from myself, versus what other people expected from me. In my quest for maturity, I almost reverted to my id in a feeble attempt to grow up. In the end, I realized that no matter what I thought I was missing out on, I had made the right choice. Many years from now, people won’t remember random men and greasy liars they made out with in corridors and stairwells, but they will remember the guy that drove them home when things got a little too out of hand. It was the role I was destined to play, and I was good at it. My attempts to change were ludicrous and worthy of the karma-like retribution I had received. I wasn’t supposed to change.
When I got home, I looked up at the cloud-free, moonlit sky and smiled. My terrible night was over, but I was a better man because of it.
As I put the key into the lock, I could hear the phone ringing inside the house. Knowing that it was almost 1am at this point, either it was someone that I knew, or someone was dead. I rushed in to answer it, mainly to spare myself from getting yelled at when the whole house woke up.
‘Hey! It’s Vinny! What’s up?’
‘Well, I just got home and I want toast and sleep. Why?’
Then I heard it. The sound of a Gail’s SUV tearing down my street with reckless abandon, waking neighbors and scattering wildlife in its powerful wake. I ran outside in time to see it crank hard into my driveway, side door flinging open. There sat Gail, Vinny, Kim and Charlotte.
I got in.
To this day, I don’t know why I did. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe I’m a pushover. Maybe I wanted to make the most out of my rad blazer. Whatever it was, it won.
Gail was driving, with Vinny riding shotgun. Me, Kim and Charlotte lined the backseat with a flat storage area behind us (it was an old Suburban or something). Everyone was talking loudly at once, and I was doing my best to stay silent and still, perhaps meld into the upholstery and disappear altogether. Peeking over Kim, I could see that Charlotte wasn’t crying, which meant that I had done my job earlier on in the night. She stared straight ahead, which was all she could really do with her neck brace.
My anxiety finally got the best of me, and I peeped, “Where are we going?”
“Never you mind!” snapped Vinny.
At this point, it was about 1:30am, and I was thinking to myself what could possibly be open at this time of the night. Not only that, where were we going that wouldn’t seem ludicrous as we sported gowns and formalwear?
Of course. The bowling alley.
The local alley was open all hours of the night; it was a nice place for white 13-year olds with thuggish tendencies to smoke and brandish weaponry. It also seemed like a magnet for teenage lesbians for some reason. Beats me, all I knew for sure was that I wanted to be in bed right now.
As it turned out, we didn’t show up to bowl; we showed up to smoke and meet people I wouldn’t ever invite into my home. Gail knew some people that were far less pleasant than Kim and Charlotte, and every time one of these baggily-panted alley-dwellers got within a yard of me I clutched my wallet and stared at the ground. I avoided one ass-kicking tonight; I wasn’t in the mood to press my luck.
Me and Charlotte don’t smoke, and our eyes met up through the haze and stench of the deafening alley. She laughed and smiled, and I could only assume she understood the head-shakingly brilliant irony of this night. After everything the two of us did to make our evening perfect, here we were at 2am, in what was one of the least-classy places in the city, sporting $300 outfits and wishing we were anywhere else. Hours ago, we were strangers; now we were allies. She came over and attempted to take a seat next to me, walking as elegantly as someone could do with a tight dress and a busted neck. On the other side of the table, Kim sat on Vinny’s lap and inhaled her Camel Light.
Before Charlotte could sit down next to me, she stared over the top of my head, presumably at something very frightening that was going on behind me. Judging by the look on her face, I fully expected a wrecking ball to collide with the back of my head in microseconds, transforming my skull into malt powder.
I turned back quickly to see nothing serious; just a few people at the next table over. However, when I looked back at Charlotte, I could see her face change shades and the tears start to well.
Well, I’ll be damned. Sitting just feet away from me was her ex-boyfriend, the very man that broke up with her hours before Homecoming. The very man that should be sitting where I’m sitting. Instead of doing what he should have been doing tonight, he was sharing an intimate bowling alley moment with his All Star Lanes mistress.
Charlotte took off for the bathroom, with Gail and Kim in tow. “We’re leaving,” Gail said.
The next thing I can remember, we were all back in the truck, driving much faster and cursing much more than was really necessary. Charlotte was completely inconsolable and my night’s work was shot directly in the can. Earlier in the evening, I came to the conclusion that the Utility Man was the role I was destined to play, and what just transpired was clearly Exhibit A.
Everything I had regrettably speculated came true. When the night started, I was determined to become the kind of guy that Charlotte’s ex-boyfriend was. Essentially, an insensitive ass that made injured women cry. In reality, the greater good called, and if it meant wasting my life making others happy, then so be it. After sobbing for a while, Charlotte sunk into hyperventilating quietly in the corner, as I silently counted off the blocks to my house.
Kim should have been consoling her. Kim should have been doing her girlfriend duties. Kim should have done everything I had been doing for her all night. But once again, instead of stepping up for a friend, she left that job to a complete stranger. It turns out she wasn’t the person I thought she was when I met her.
No less than six inches from Charlotte’s face, Kim and Vinny started viciously making out.
For my money, there’s nothing sexier than getting to first base next to an injured woman in the midst of an emotional breakdown; I could barely hear her bawling over the two of them. Angry and more than a little disgusted, I reached over Kim’s wildly bobbing head and tapped Charlotte on the shoulder. Someone had to get her out of this wide-awake nightmare.
Obviously, she couldn’t turn her head to see me, so she just screamed “What!?” into the back of the passenger seat, where she had her face mashed. I had startled her. Eventually, I motioned for her to jump over the backseat and into the flatbed area in the back of the SUV.
This was how the night was going to end for me. Sitting in the storage area of a Chevy Suburban with a red-faced stranger who should be in traction. Still incoherent, she was sitting cross-legged in the flatbed with her dress twisted up around her waist. She either didn’t care or didn’t notice, and I did my best to divert my eyes.
“Thank you,” she blurted out. “You’re a good friend.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t know her last name, and I would almost certainly never see her again after tonight.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered back as she threw her arms around me, instantly drenching my blazer with tears. In the corner of my eye, I saw Kim and Vinny happily stretched across the backseat, where minutes ago we were sitting. Reaching out over the top of the seat, I attempted to strangle the both of them to death, to no avail.
Charlotte pulled her head off of my shoulder and pressed her wet nose against my face. Hiccupping over words and shivering, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Do you want to kiss me?”
At this point, I was secretly wondering how injured I’d get if I popped the hatch and flung myself out of the vehicle. This was the worst possible thing she could have said. I would have more preferred it if she said, “This neck brace is actually a bomb that’s set to turn this stretch of highway into a smoldering crater in 3-2-1…”
Honestly, what would you do? On one hand, this was my opportunity to prove that the nice guy will get the nice girl in the end (hooray! vindication!). On the other hand, Vinny was proving that the jerkass always wins, and always has more fun along the way. Honestly, I wanted nothing to do with this situation; the last thing she needed on her fragile psyche was another loser who made decisions with his ween. On yet another hand, she might once again feel rejected if I said no, and that might actually hurt her far more than if I just went along with what she wanted. “Think man, think! What would Larry Csonka do?”
Finally, I saw through it and realized that she was just begging for acceptance, and only asked me because it’s what she thought I had wanted the entire night.
This was nowhere near the truth, of course; I was just doing my job.
So what happened?
If you must know, I told her the same story I’m telling you right now. About my night; about my ideas and projections for what I wanted to become as a man. I told her about my near ass-kicking at the hands of a vengeful boyfriend and sadistic woman. I told her about the mystery girl and how I felt when I saw that she already found someone to make her happy. I told her how I need to accept the role I chose to play, because it was what made me content, for better or worse. I told her that as much as people need a sympathetic ear, I need to get my attention and acceptance as well, and this was the best way to make myself happy. I told her that her suffering probably made my night, because it allowed me to feel important and mend wounds I has no business tending to in the first place. I told her that no matter what I became, I was still operating on selfish and egotistical morals. I told her that I was an asshole that deserved everything I had coming to me tonight, and she was better off never seeing me again.
She understood. She actually understood. The night suddenly was in perspective.
For the second time tonight, we pulled into my driveway. This time, however, I had to pop the trunk to get out. Vinny and Kim didn’t even realize that I was leaving, far too busy tearing at each other to peek their heads up. Charlotte smiled as the red brake lights reflected off of her face. We hugged and I told her that everything would be okay.
“You, too,” she said. It was the truest thing anyone had said to me all night.
It made sense. In my honest confession to her, I made her feel empowered and let her know what my motives were. On a night like this, she very much needed a guy like me to come along. A selfish guy, bent on feeling self-important and making an impact on someone. On a night like this, I very much needed a girl like her to come along. A train wreck of a girl so gruesome that the only thing that could save her from destruction was the complete and undivided attention of someone more sad than herself.
Guys like me are attracted to trauma because it makes us feel dominant and important, much like everything else we’re attracted to. It didn’t matter what our names were and what we looked like, as long as we possessed these qualities and spoke the same language. We weren’t necessarily special in each other’s eyes, we were just what the other needed to make it out of Homecoming with our dignity.
I never saw Charlotte again, and we made no attempts to contact each other. I think we knew that Homecoming happened for a reason, and it didn’t matter what happened afterwards.
So long, Charlotte. I hope your neck is feeling better. You saved my night; hopefully I saved yours.